Smart Gate is Australia’s version of Global Entry, and they’ve recently opened it up for use by US citizens that are Global Entry-approved. I recently took a trip to Australia and had a chance to experience Smart Gate first hand on arrival in Sydney. I thought it might be useful to some to explain how the process works in case you have a trip planned to Australia in the near future.
- Review: Qantas A380 First Class LAX-SYD on QF12
- Smart Gate in Australia for Global Entry-Approved Travelers
- Radisson Blu Sydney Review
- Park Hyatt Sydney Review
- Qantas Domestic Business Class Lounge SYD
- Qantas Domestic Business Class Lounge CNS
- Air New Zealand (Star Alliance) Lounge BNE
- Thai Business Class BNE-BKK on TG474
- Aloft Bangkok Sukhumvit 11
- Etihad Regional Business Class CMB-AUH (mistake fare redemption)
- Etihad First Class AUH-JFK (Jet Airways Plane)
- Hyatt Regency DFW
My Experience as a Global Entry-Approved Traveler
I arrived in First Class so I was one of the first ones off the plane. After a short walk to immigration I saw a long line for “normal” people and a sign for Smartgate off to the right of the room. I walked over to one of the kiosks and followed the prompts.
Just like with Global Entry, you insert your passport and you’re asked a series of questions. The big difference, however, is that Smart Gate only asked 3 simple questions, all of which were “No” for me (and likely will be for everyone), and there’s no fingerprint that’s needed. That’s where the similarity to Global Entry ends.
After you answer the questions, a card prints out of the machine and you’re asked to proceed to the Smart Gate exit gates. There are several of these exit gates, and the best way I can describe them is they’re like a turnstile system you might use when entering a train station or something similar, except more sophisticated. When the person in front of you is done, you simply enter your card, are asked to look directly ahead at a camera that takes your picture, and if your entry is approved then the gates open and you walk through.
Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work…except it didn’t work like that for me. I received a message saying that I’d need to see an immigration officer in person, and was asked to proceed to a “further assistance” line off to the side. I wasn’t the only one that had this issue apparently – the line was already about 10-15 people deep and tons were joining us.
After about 5-10 minutes of waiting in line, an immigration officer asked everyone in line “Were any of you on QF12?” Most of the people in line, including myself, raised their hand and the officer said that our flight information hadn’t been loaded into the Smart Gate system when we tried earlier, so he told us all to try again. The others and I headed back to the kiosks for another try.
The new card printed out, and I proceeded to the exit gates. I inserted my card, smiled for the picture, and this time the gates opened and I was free to proceed to baggage claim and the airport exit. The exit line at Sydney was a bit long, but that’s the same for everyone. I received a ticket to a premium line since I was traveling in First Class but both lines seemed to be the same length and both moved quickly. Soon enough I was outside the airport where my First Class chauffeur was waiting!
Thoughts on Smartgate
In my opinion, the Smart Gate process is even better than re-entering the US with Global Entry. There are no fingerprints required, you need to answer just 3 questions (fewer than Global Entry), and you don’t need to talk to anyone before proceeding to baggage claim and the exit. Make sure you make use of this for your next visit to Australia!
How to Get Global Entry
For those of you without Global Entry, what are you waiting for? If you travel internationally on a regular basis, or even once a year, I think it’s worth it to join the program. The application is extensive and it requires an in-person interview at an airport, but it’s been extremely valuable to me as a time-saving and stress-reducing tool.
There are certain credit cards that reimburse your Global Entry application fee of $100. The Amex Platinum card is the most popular of these options, and there are three versions you can get:
- The standard 40K bonus points offer. Annual fee of $450 not waived.
- The Mercedes Benz 50K bonus points offer. Annual fee of $475 not waived.
- The Ameriprise Platinum offer (also available from other financial institutions), with no bonus points. Annual fee of $450 waived the first year.
You get a $200 airline incidentals credit that’s supposed to be used for things like bag fees, food, etc, but in practice you can actually use it to buy gift cards with most airlines (I bought mine with AA). These gift cards can then be used to purchase tickets with that airline, and if you had to book a flight with them anyway, then it’s like getting $200 back for free. If you pay for your Global Entry application using the Amex Platinum card you’ll automatically be reimbursed the $100. Again, it’s almost like getting the program for free.
Lounge access isn’t what it used to be, but you still get a Priority Pass Select membership (lounges around the world), access to Delta lounges when flying with them, and access to Amex Centurion Lounges around the US. There aren’t many Amex Lounges yet, but they’re some of the best domestic lounges in the US (free spa treatment in DFW, for example).